India Is Driving Spotify’s Global Growth — Will Revenue Follow?
With 10 billion streams in January alone, the app has become the country's leader in monthly streams -- but India still isn't a top-five revenue market for the service.
MUMBAI — India is driving Spotify’s international expansion, vaulting into the top five territories in total users for the platform after just four years of operation in the country.
“India is the single market that has contributed the most to our global growth over the last year,” says Gustav Gyllenhammar, Spotify’s vp of markets and subscriber growth. The company’s user count in India has tripled over the last two years, according to Gyllenhammar.
Spotify did not provide numbers, but Comscore estimates the platform has about 55 million monthly active users (MAUs) in India, and Spotify is the country’s top audio-streaming service in terms of engagement, with nearly 10 billion tracks streamed in India in January alone, sources close to the company say. Last year, Spotify says, Bollywood playback singer Arijit Singh tallied more streams on the app than Beyonce. Then in January, Singh broke into the top 10 of Spotify’s Global Top Artists chart, even though most of his plays were in India.
Despite this, India is not a top five revenue market for the service, Gyllenhammar says, demonstrating the limits of the country — which has 1.4 billion people and is expected to soon pass China as the most populous nation — as a music market. Multiple factors are at play, including India’s significantly lower per-stream payouts, a resistance to paying for music subscriptions and the challenges of a market with two official languages and another 22 regional ones.
India was the 17th-largest recorded-music market in 2021 with $219 million in revenue, up 20% from 2020 and driven largely by streaming, according to IFPI’s Global Music Report. But at just $0.16, its per-capita music revenue is among the lowest in the world.
India’s economy is one of the world’s largest, but a 2022 report by the International Monetary Fund ranks its per-capita income at 140 out of 190 countries, which contributes to the problems streaming services have in getting more consumers to pay for subscriptions. A monthly Spotify subscription costs 119 rupees ($1.45) compared with $9.99 in the United States. Gyllenhammar says the service doesn’t plan to increase prices in India in the near future.
India’s streaming market is estimated to have over 300 million MAUs. (For comparison, there are 219 million in the United States.) When Spotify launched there in 2019, it was the eighth major audio-streaming service to enter a market ruled by local streaming services Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk. Since then, it has overtaken Gaana, which has turned into a subscription-only service after talks for an acquisition by Wynk’s parent, the telco Bharti Airtel, fell through. JioSaavn, which saw an overhaul of its top management last year, has witnessed a fall in engagement.
Though JioSaavn and Wynk still have more MAUs than Spotify, 20.1% of respondents picked Spotify as their favorite music streaming service, compared with 4.9% who chose either JioSaavn or Wynk, in a study conducted last year by IFPI and the Indian Music Industry, the country’s recorded-music trade group. (YouTube topped the list with 46%.)
Spotify’s closest competition for engagement, according to industry insiders, is ByteDance-owned Resso, which officially launched in India in March 2020 as one of three test markets for the app outside of China. (Indonesia and Brazil are the others.) Resso, they say, has a stronger presence in smaller cities and tallies a similar number of streams. But it’s been growing at a slower rate than Spotify and has been affected by the loss of Sony Music’s catalog — which includes several hit Indian film soundtracks — after Sony removed its titles from the service in September.
Indian music executives say Spotify has better technology for generating algorithmic recommendations and playlist personalization — and that gives it an edge over domestic rivals. It also emulated its local competition by emphasizing the importance of regional-language music and by creating a generous ad-based tier.
In India, Spotify offers a mobile-only “mini” subscription where users pay 7 rupees ($0.09) per day. It offers ad-free music on phones, group listening sessions and downloads of 30 songs per device. There aren’t any restrictions on the number of songs free users can stream in the ad-based tier.
A Focus On Servicing Local Languages
Today, in addition to English, Spotify offers its service in 12 Indian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi and Urdu. To focus on local languages, Spotify has had to customize its operations. “Until we came to India, most [of our] markets [were dominated by] one or two languages,” says Amarjit Singh Batra, GM/managing director for India. “The whole structure, from the teams to the way we work to how we look at recommendations, curation — every piece had to be re-looked at.”
Local content accounts for about 85% of listening on domestic platforms like JioSaavn and Wynk, for example, but initially only made up 20% to 30% of Spotify streams in the market. “When we launched, consumption looked very similar to many other countries globally, [which is] predominantly international English-language music,” Gyllenhammar says. Then Spotify pushed to expand its audience beyond India’s big cities, and today, out of Spotify’s 184 markets, India has the highest share of local consumption, at 70%.
During the pandemic, as competitors tightened their budgets, the Swedish company says it spent heavily on nationwide and region-specific advertising and marketing — including ads on broadcast and streaming TV. “We have never paid so much attention to marketing in any single market,” says Gyllenhammar. The platform has run marketing campaigns in Hindi and English, as well as the four main languages spoken in south India: Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam.
Spotify has also resisted pressure from labels to ensure their songs feature at the top of playlists, which music companies had come to expect from Indian platforms. “They keep looking at Spotify to be something like that,” says Padmanabhan “Paddy” NS, Spotify’s head of artist and label partnerships. Instead, Spotify realized early on the potential of independent and non-film music and showcased them through playlists and programs such as Radar. The strategy paid dividends during the pandemic when the closure of cinemas led to a paucity of new soundtrack releases, which local platforms had relied on.
Since it launched in the country, Spotify has more than doubled its number of India-based employees, Gyllenhammar and Singh say, and they’re planning to expand their India ad sales teams five-fold by the end of the year. (They decline to share how many people the company currently employs in India.)
While India is primarily a low-price, high-volume play for Spotify, the country offers tremendous growth potential. It has the second-largest share of internet and smartphone users in the world (after China), at about 658 million, though that’s just under half of its total population. (The United States and the United Kingdom both have 90% internet penetration.) “If you look at other sectors online, whether it’s in search or social media or e-commerce, [India is] a billion-dollar market for the global players,” Gyllenhammar says.
Singh Batra says Spotify’s focus over the next four years will be on reaching “a level where the audience for each and every core [Indian] language is able to say, ‘Spotify is for me, for my region.’” By focusing on regional-language listeners, Spotify aims to gain new consumers in smaller cities and rural areas, as well as by pulling customers from JioSaavn and Resso, which dominate those regions.
The company says it’s gaining subscribers in India at a faster rate than total users. In 2022, premium subscriptions grew by 85% and MAUs by 80% year on year. Spotify executives say they see India following the same growth path as Latin America, where the level of paid users is now about the same as the global average of 40%.
It took eight years after Spotify launched in Brazil in 2014 for the region to reach that 40% level, Gyllenhammar says. “It didn’t happen in the first four years,” he observes. “It happened during the second phase of those eight years. So similarly, for India, the next four years is a period where we will see improvement on this side.”